It was open mike night at Joe's Bar, and the odd young kid from down southern California way had won possession of the stage for the rest of the night hands down. Joe hadn't quite caught his name--he’d been busy the early part of the night pouring drinks and tuning up the crowd. As midnight approached, there were as many folks dancing as drinking, which suited Joe just fine, because the bar was just busy enough to keep the bartender moving without needing Joe as a backup.
Joe moved to a perch behind the soundboard, glad to be enjoying a beer, the music and a little time off his pins, an all too rare occurrence these days. He fooled with one of the dials, eliminating a nearly inaudible intermittent high end whine. The day manager must've cranked the settings again while he was out of town on the latest failed goose chase for the demon-ridden MacLeod. The search was really cutting into his business. It was time to quit following shadows. Or time to quit Joe’s. Soon, he'd have to decide-chronicle, or cut limes.
But not tonight. Tonight, there was music being made.
The kid noticed the sound level adjustment, and flashed a grin towards the darkened sound booth. Good ears. Good hands, too, Joe allowed as he followed the youngster's fretwork with a critical eye. A little Jorma Kaukonen lick, there. What kid his age listened to Jorma Kaukonen? Or Big Bill Broonzy, for that matter? And there was a teasing eighties punk riff that reminded Joe of late nights, London fog, and Laura. Letting the kid stretch right up to the edge of closing time, Joe finally flashed the hand signal to finish up the set. The kid was still sharp, and he grinned as he finished with an experienced stinger. He even acknowledged the happily danced-out crowd like a pro, sliding nimbly out of the spotlight just in time for last call.
So what was he doing playing amateur night?
Joe’s customers wrapped themselves around their last drink and, when they could, one another, as they drifted out of the bar. After the last lonely guy floated off in a taxi, Joe glanced out the bar front, frowning slightly at a dark form lingering off the alley. The shadowy profile didn't fit Mac, and he hadn't seen Methos since Richie died, and didn't expect to anytime soon. He shrugged, and locked the door, fairly secure in the knowledge that all 'his' Immortals were out of town, and the power of wishful thinking wouldn't change that fact. The night deposit could wait until morning.
"Hey, kid, you want a beer?" he called out to the musician breaking down the equipment up on stage. Joe noted that the guitarist had carefully stowed the house sound cords out from underfoot without being asked. Maybe this one was a keeper.
The kid canted his head as if he actually had to think about it. "Oz. Sure."
"Oz. Sure." Joe moved through the cleanup ritual. The bar staff had already done the heavy lifting before scooting out the door to last call uptown, but Joe always liked to make one last pass. "So. I heard that Hot Tuna riff. Where'd you pick that up?" Joe asked as Oz buttoned up the stage.
"Our school library had a Golden Oldies record collection," Oz replied as he carefully closed his guitar case, bringing it with him as he sidled up to the bar. Unobstrusively, he sniffed the last couple of peanuts in the bowl before sliding them aside.
"I walked into that one," Joe laughed, and handed over the beer, pushing a fresh bowl of peanuts from his private stash out between them. "I heard Jorma live in '69. Reminded me of...other times."
"Better times?" It sounded like an honest question.
Joe considered. "Depends on your definition, I guess. I was young and dumb--I fit right in."
Oz allowed a smile. Joe got the feeling the kid was out of practice. "Everyone on the blues telegraph says you're a canny guy, Mr. Dawson. I don't think dumb is on the curriculum vitae."
Joe raised an eyebrow. "Errare humanum est. You haven't been talking to the right 'everyone', kid. Especially if you're calling me 'Mr. Dawson'. It's Joe."
"Esse est percipi," Oz shot back without blinking. To be is to be perceived.
Joe pondered the words. Idealist philosophy wasn't commonly bandied about the bar. Methos was too pragmatic, and Mac was usually too...literal. "Well, you aren't always what you seem, are you?" he asked, more of himself than his customer. "Esse quam videri...," he deliberately left hanging.
With careful pronunciation, and an ever-so-faint echo of an English accent, Oz finished, "...bonus maledat."
" 'It is better to be good, rather than to seem so,' " Joe translated, delighted. He hadn't played 'hoary Latin sayings' since Methos blew town. "Jorma and Sallust, in one package. I'm impressed. I had fierce nuns in parochial school in Chicago--what's your excuse?"
Oz reddened, just a bit, at the compliment. "My high school librarian had skilz. Has skills," he quickly corrected himself.
"Good for her," Joe said offhandedly, as he topped off their mugs.
"Him. He went to one of those scary English schools. He liked to pass on his...survival tips."
"Yeah, well, a little fear can sure speed up the learning process and sharpen the memory. That, and missing a couple of meals. Speaking of which, you've got that lean and hungry look down pat."
"Protein deficit," Oz said ruefully, politely leaving the last peanut in the bowl for Joe.
'Yeah, been there, done the Ramen," Joe commiserated. "I've got a little kitchen in back--what say we raid the fridge?"
Oz held up his hand, though he looked tempted. "Business first," he apologized. "A friend gave me something to deliver."
Joe stilled. "You've been here half the night. Why wait til after hours?"
"Lending restrictions," Oz apologized. "I can't let it out of my sight, and only you can see it. And the situation has to...smell right." Oz reopened his guitar case and drew out a small rectangle wrapped in linen. Before passing it over, he slid a short bundle of forms across the bar. "If you agree, sign."
"Nice to know my bar passed the smell test," Joe groused, but picked up the forms and read them through completely before hunting up a pen. There was Eugenia Mohrman's familiar neat print on the request form. A less familiar scrawl 'Approved: See Restrictions, RG' on the bottom. He hesitated at an unfamiliar acronym. "WVIS?"
Oz winced. "Watchers Very Interested in Slaying."
"I hadda ask," Joe sighed, and signed with a flourish. "Eugenia works her magic yet again."
"Magic? Any coven I know?" Oz asked with bright curiosity.
Joe gave him a sharp look. "You know lots of covens?"
"Native Californian," Oz temporized.
"I won't hold it against you. Still, even for a Californian, you don't strike me as a librarian, kid."
"Oz. You know a lot of librarians?" Oz asked, sounding just a whit insulted.
"More than you'd think. And none of them have such sharp fingernails," Joe observed tartly. "Saves you on guitar picks, does it?"
"I was deputized," Oz lightly deflected.
"Got a badge?" Joe badgered.
"No stinkin' badges," Oz said, a bit mournfully. "Budget cuts."
"That's okay. A library card will do," Joe relented.
"I believe it's supposed to be my duty to inquire about your card first," Oz prompted, flashing his Magic Shoppe discount and Sunnydale Public cards. "WVIS lending rules."
"Far be it for me to get in the way of the Deputy doing his duty. Eugenia would murder me if I messed up her interlibrary loan karma," Joe grinned and pulled out his wallet, and trumped Oz with three worn cards, laying them on the bar. "I've got more in the office," he offered genially.
Oz dutifully examined the garish card from Seacouver Public, a more sober-looking reading ticket from a prominent library in Galway, and a year's pass to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. "Cool." But his eyes clearly didn't miss the tattoo on Joe's wrist as he turned over a card. "You pass."
"Cool," Joe echoed, but when Oz slowly slid the package across, he didn't pick it up. "You know what's in it?" he asked.
"Akkadian Demon Lore" Oz answered promptly. "Translated from a Sumer source in 1592, with annotations by a Benedictine monk, Benjamin of Bath, also known as 'Benjamin the Wicked.'
"Was he? Wicked, that is?" Joe asked.
"Esse est percipi," Oz shrugged. "Could be he was just misunderstood."
"Aren't we all," Joe allowed.
"But the Church Latin is as wicked as all get out."
"Sounds like a long night, then," Joe said wryly. "Why don't you hold on to that translation while I make us both some dinner. Then you can sack out on my couch in the office while I read and take notes. You need to be anywhere tonight? Someone waiting for you?" Joe thought again on the dark figure in the alley.
"No, I don't know anyone this far north. I figured I'd crash at the hostel up the way."
"Well, now you know me. And my doors have better locks. Mi sofa is su sofa, if you want it." Joe topped off Oz's beer and left for the kitchen, leaving him consider the offer in privacy.
Joe set them up in his office with a full platter, Oz on the couch, Joe in his favorite reading recliner. Joe's sandwiches apparently passed young Oz's politely subtle sniff test, for he ended up demolishing two while Joe picked at his own. Speculation at what the book contained stole his appetite, and he kept glancing at the package lying on the table between them.
"It won't bite. My boss promised," Oz said helpfully, reading Joe's frown. "He even sent these along for the reader, for protection." He held out a pair of ordinary-looking white gloves.
Joe took them dubiously, and slid them onto his large hands carefully, the seams straining over his battered knuckles. "Protection for the book?"
"That, too," Oz answered. He tucked his guitar into the corner and neatly stowed his shoes under the table. "Thanks for lending your roof, Joe."
"Anytime," Joe answered softly, as he slowly unwrapped the package. He tipped the lamp so the light wouldn't shine in his guest's eyes, leaned back in the chair, and began to read.